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Well, I'm back! It was a heck of a ride, and I'm happy to say, that was a heck of a good ride.

I woke up on Saturday at 4:00 a.m. That is disgustingly early, I'll have you know. On the other hand, I wanted to be sure to get there early, to get signed in, get my bearings, meet up with my friend Corrina, with whom I'd planned to ride, and generally get situated. Also, I planned for getting lost. The ride started out in Lee's Summit, a part of town with which I am not at all familiar. I think I have been lost out there once before. I printed out a Mapquest to get out there, and studied it up, but knew I'd have the devil's own time consulting it in the car, seeing as it has no working interior lights (including no dash lights) I tried holding a pen-light in my mouth and shining it on the paper, but that was no good. I didn't want to start the day with a car wreck. Luckily for me, a big van passed me with a trunk rack holding three bikes and a roof rack with another four on top. They were all road bikes, so I figured these folks were heading to the same place I was, so I decided to chance it and follow them. The chance was well taken, and we all ended up out at Longview Elementary.

It was raining enough to choke a duck. It had been drizzling steadily all night. When I went to load my bike into the Jetta, it was just sprinkling a little, but as I got on the road, the rain kicked up, and by the time I got out there, it was a drenching downpour. “Oh, yuk…this is going to be a long damn 150 miles if this shit keeps up,” was the only though in my mind at that point. Daunted but unbeaten, I stuck the wheels back on my bike, loaded my camping gear onto the rear rack, checked the brakes, shouldered my backpack, locked up the car, and started slogging through the muddy field down to the elementary school gym, where the registrations were taking place. I found a sheltered place to lean my bike beneath the eaves of the gym. It occurred to me to re-arrange my camping gear, and wrap the tent and sleeping bag in the polyethelene ground cloth (henceforth “tarp”). Once I'd rendered my gear water-resistant, I moseyed inside to take care of official stuff. Sign in was easy…they crossed my name off a list and gave me my number tags and told me how to use 'em. One on the front of my bike, one on the top tube, one on my helmet, and two for any luggage I might want to load on to the truck. As my dumb ass decided to go self-supporting, I just slipped those two tags into my backpack for just-in-case.

After sign-in, it was just another hour and a half of milling around with something close to 2000 other cyclists, feeling a bit discombobulated, and decidedly despondent about the godawful weather. I was thankful to have the habit of wearing combat boots and wool socks, and suspect I had happier feet than pretty much any other cyclist out there.

Corrina and I had planned to meet up at the start line by calling each other on our cell phones, but when I tried to call her, I got a notice that the number was out of service. As it turns out, it was simply because she had forgotten to turn her phone on. She caught up to me not very long after the ride started, however, and we rode together all of the first day. I'd started out kinda tagging along with three guys who were setting their pace per the one dude's cyclocomputer. Their plan was to not top 12mph, in order not to wear themselves out unduly. I thought this sounded pretty sensible. That was until I realized what 12mph feels like. To me, on my road bike, it feels really damn slow. I rode with them for a few miles, but couldn't keep it down enough, so I said, “thanks and see ya later” after a bit, and chugged up to my more normal travelling speed. What that speed actually is is hard to say…I guess around 15mph, but dog only knows. Corrina and I were trying to figure it out, guessing for time spent at rest stops and so forth. A guy I used to ride with carried a computer, and I seem to remember our cruising pace to be around 15, which is what this mostly felt like. Anyway, speed wasn't really that important. It's not like this was a race.

Anyhow, we cranked along at a pretty steady rate. The ride organizers had snacks at the various rest stops, as well as mechanical assistance and SAG services. There were really tasty grapes at pretty much every stop, and I was really digging the grapes…hydration and sugar all in a handy, munchable package. Bananas were in abundance, too, and I like bananas once again. I got burned out on bananas and peanutbutter back in my running days, but I have gotten over that and like 'em once again. PB&J sandwiches were in evidence at the various stops, too.

I knew that Zeke, one of my MySpace biking buddies would be working at one of the rest stops, so I kept an eye out for the BikeSource tent, 'cause I wanted to say “hi.” Which I did. He was pretty busy, so I didn't bug him other than to say “hey.” One of his colleagues was working on a wheel that looked utterly hosed…a taco job. The dude was smacking the wheel against the ground to try to flatten it back out a bit, but I think it was pretty much hosed.

I didn't end up needing any technical assistance. My brilliant package rack idea didn't pan out so well…the supports kept shaking loose, so I ended up stowing my tent in my backpack and bunjeeing my sleeping bag into the basket on my handlebars, leaving just the tarp strapped to the rack, to protect my butt from road mud splashback.

Because I was a bit the stronger rider, I mostly led off, and let Corrina draft me. I'd been a little concerned, because I know she doesn't get along with hills that well, and was afraid my pace might not work out. Indeed, she'd drop back on the hills, and I'd coast down the downslope so she could catch back up, but on the flats, we kept nice and steady. Except for the time she got a little too close to my back wheel, we had a little tire-kiss, and she wrecked, hard. I heard the tire rub, and looked back over my shoulder to see her fishtail, then tip to the right and fly off her bike. I hollered out “stopping,” and flipped a U-ie and went back to see if she was okay. She picked up some pretty impressive road rash on her right elbow and knee, but was otherwise all right. The wreck knocked her rear derailleur out of adjustment, however, and so during the lunch stop, she dropped her bike off with the mechanics to see if they could get it to shift right. Luckily, the damage was slight, and they were able to tune it back up. The rest of the ride was free of mechanical problems and wrecks, and boy howdy did Corrina get mad props for her road rash. It will be a bicycling conversation piece for weeks to come, I should think, as it is pretty grisly.

By lunchtime, the weather had cleared up, and it was really darn nice out. The scenery along the way out to Sedalia is pretty. Swooping hills, with lots of trees and wildflowers and picturesque old farms. Plenty of massive barns, decaying outbuildings, and critters of all descriptions. We had the misfortune to ride past a field where a truck was driving up and down spraying out some kind of powdered fertilizer which smelt of cowshit and wet dog hair. I pulled my shirt up over my nose and pedalled faster, hoping to get clear of the stench quickly.

At a point, we started discussing our pace. We'd been steadily passing people, and I wondered if these folks we were passing knew something we didn't. I asked Corrina how she was feeling, and she said she was okay, and I felt just fine, so we figured it must be the power of daily riding that was propelling us along rather smartly. We held steady, too and finished out the day with no especial pain nor undue weariness, considering we'd ridden 100 miles. I think it's only natural to be pretty tired after 100 miles, but we were still okay to set up our tents and do the other stuff we needed to do at Sedalia. Toward the end of the run on the first day, we passed a dude who caught up to us on the downhill side and asked if he could join our mini-paceline. We'd no objections, so he tagged along to the next rest-stop, where he then thanked us for the pull. One of his buddies who'd gotten to the stop before us overheard, and started ribbing him for drafting a couple of girls. He replied, “Hell yeah, I drafted them! They're pretty studly riders, and they smell a lot better than you, too!” That pretty much made my day.

At lunchtime, we discussed the optional century loop. We were near the halfway point, and both still felt plenty sparky, so we decided to go for it. After 88 miles, what's another 12, was the line of reasoning we took. So we went ahead and rode the century, a first for the both of us. It was with numb butts and a pleasantly satisfied feeling of accomplishment that we rolled into Sedalia. Check-in there was mercifully simple, and the bike-parking facility (the hog-barn at the state fairgrounds) was super cool. The hog barn (grandiloquently named the “Swine Pavillion”) is a mooresque brick structure with hundreds of tidy little metal pens inside. They're a perfect size to park about six bikes. Each pen was designated for a certain number of bikes, keyed to your registration number. My registration number was 1173, so I went to the pen reserved for bikes 1170-1175. Easy-peasey. The camping situation was in a lawn between the hog barn and the auditorium. We chose a spot almost exactly central to the barn, the auditorium, and the showers. After the pitching of tents and arranging of crap, we joined the queues for the showers. Though the water was nearly cold, it felt really good to get a day's sweat and grime off…then off to dinner. Spaghetti, bread, carrots-and-celery, and some kind of Snapple-knockoff didn't go amiss. We meandered around, listened to the little rally, got ice-cream bars, and decided to call it a night around 8:30. We pulled into Sedalia around 4:30, and determined that we'd been on the road for something near 9 hours, and I'd been up since 4:00 a.m., so sleep was of the essence.

I slept until about 5:00 a.m. when I heard other people starting to be up and moving around, so I woke up, then called Corrina and started breaking camp. This time, I decided to be sensible and use the luggage services, so I bundled my tent and bag together inside of the tarp, tied it all up with a couple of old innertubes I use for bunjies, stuck my number stickers on the whole shebang, and loaded it onto the baggage truck. Then we went down for breakfast, ate, then went out and lined up to start off once again.

Sunday's weather was just plain lovely. Not too warm, not too cold, and not at all rainy or windy. This was good, as the 65 miles of Sunday's ride were really hilly. I like hills and I was getting to the point of thinking “good grief, this landscape is corrugated” It was really pretty, though, and I'm sure the terrain had something to do with that. We crossed a lot of little creeks, and a lot of peculiar abandoned houses. I'm fascinated with abandonded houses, so I had to gawk at each as we passed it. If I were just touring on my own, I'd probably stop and explore some of them…at least peek inside windows.

Anyhow we finished up the run, got lunch, and piled on to buses to get back to Lee's Summit. This one fellow we'd seen several times, with a vast array of glow-in-the-dark skeletons wired to his bike and one sitting upright on the top of his helmet got on this bus, too. I asked him what had inspired his decorations, and she said it started as a joke when he'd decorated his work truck for halloween a few years ago and never un-decorated it. The joke kind of grew, as he'd buy Halloween skeletons when they wer echeap,a nd he decided to carry the theme on through with his bike. Actually, a lot of people decorated their bikes and/or helmets. There were ladies with big, red rosettes wired to their helmets, a whole team of girls wearing dime-store tiaras over their helmets, and the ride ambassadors wore these cool tinsel crests attached to the tops of their helmets. Another team had a bunch of different squeaky dog toys stuck on their handlebars, and they started out the ride all squeaking at once. It sounded like pandemonium in a rubber-ducky factory. For once, my little daisy basket was not in the least bit out of place. Indeed, it got a lot of compliments.

My daily boots got a lot of commentary, too, which is pretty typical. A lot of “my god how can you ride in those things,” and “aren't those heavy?” and “those are some pretty unusual cycling shoes,” and “do you have cleats on those things?” I get these questions at normal around-town rides. I don't know what it is about the boots that freak people out so, but a LOT of cyclists just don't seem to think it's possible to ride in anything other than hard-soled clipless cycling shoes. I just tell people that the boots are comfortable and give good ankle support, which is true and which are the main reasons I wear 'em. Besides, I wear them daily, so I am used to them. Also, I think weight concerns are overblown by a lot of cyclists. Sure, the boots are heavier than cycling shoes tend to be, but by how much? Not enough to make it a big deal. And while there may be a push-pull benefit to wearing clipless for hill climbing, I haven't noticed hills being a big problem for me, ever. I was pulling hills better than a lot of folks who were kitted out in the latest and greatest, so I'm thinking that the difference clipless makes for hill-climbing can only really be measured by people riding at the absolute top of the sport, and for us normal folks out on the road, it's not truly that amazing of a benefit. I got a lot of commentary on my messenger bag, too. I think Corrina and I were the only ones toting messenger bags, and mine is a pretty bulky looking affair. It wasn't that heavy…I'd cleaned it out for the occasion and only had the tools I strictly needed, only the tubes for this bike, and no frisbee or library books. It was significantly lighter than usual, and I'm used to toting it, so it's no big deal. There was one other dude there who went totally self-supporting. He had a full touring rig going, with panniers and he looked like he very well knew what he was up to. I gave him props as we passed him at one point.

Anyway, thanks for bearing with my exteneded babble about riding the MS150. I expect by this point, you probably feel like you've journeyed 165 miles as well. Just put your legs on autopilot, and everything will be fine.

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